With the rise of dieting as we approach summer, I wanted to talk about a huge reason why your diet may be failing you and what you can do about it! If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen someone talk about their 1200 calorie diet, I’d be a millionaire, but did you know that the USDA estimates that 1200 calories is only suitable for inactive boys that are 4 years old and inactive girls that are 4-5 years old? Think about it. Do you honestly think it’s a safe idea to be eating the same number of calories as a 4-5 year old child??
Our mindset is that the fewer calories we eat the more weight we will lose. This is also not true. This is where metabolic adaptation comes into play. The idea of metabolic adaptation is that when you eat fewer calories, your body adjusts to that new number and begins to require fewer calories to support your body’s functions (like metabolism). This is especially common with those who are heavily restricting calories whilst remaining inactive. Eventually the body adjusts and you’ll stop seeing the number on the scale move. This is the body’s way of protecting itself from starvation.
It’s actually pretty amazing how the body can adjust like this. The most important thing for your body is that it can keep performing those essential functions to stay alive. While metabolic adaptation does not happen to everyone, it’s pretty common for those on restrictive diets. The reality is that our bodies need anywhere from 2000-3000 calories depending on age, activity level and gender. This is the bare minimum number of calories you need to support a healthy functioning of the body.
If you believe you are at an unhealthy weight or believe you need to make some lifestyle changes, the first step is to talk with a doctor or registered dietician. They can help you to find out if your weight is concerning and help guide you through making healthy changes. If you’re already eating in that range and finding that you are putting on weight and have been advised that weight loss is needed, start by upping your activity levels and moving more. This will burn calories, while building muscles that support a healthy metabolic function.
So where did this 1200 calories diet idea come from?
In extreme cases of weight loss, such as those with morbid obesity, or those with specific diagnosed medical issues, a 1200 calories diet may be prescribed. Those adults following this intense diet plan are monitored by a doctor or registered dietician to ensure the diet is done safely and are not causing harm to the body. When people see someone lose a lot of weight on a diet plan, they want to copy that diet, and get the same results. That’s how we end up with tons of people that are on these diets and end up with metabolic adaptation because they are doing it for the wrong reason and are not being supervised by a professional.
Why do people diet instead of getting more exercise?
Most people believe dieting is easier than moving more. Even if we fail a diet over and over again, it can often be less overwhelming than the thought of exercise. That’s because there’s a lot of misinformation about how much movement is needed. Even just getting more steps into your day, taking stairs instead of the elevator, or other small adjustments, can make a huge impact in your life. You don’t have to hit the gym for an hour 6 days a week to burn more calories and see progress!
Another reason people favor dieting over exercise is because any diet has had some success. You’ll know someone who has a friend who lost 100 pounds on a diet. That doesn’t mean it was the healthiest way for that person to lose the weight, and it most certainly doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for you to do. We all have different bodies that function differently and have unique needs. We have to do what’s best for our own body. Not someone else’s.
How to find out if you have experienced metabolic adaptation
The best way to find out if you have experienced metabolic adaptation is to speak with a doctor or registered dietician. They can help you track your activity levels and your intake of food to see if everything adds up. One thing you can pay attention to, though, and it can be your red flag, is if you are eating a very low number of calories and notice you are gaining weight. A lot of people will be eating as little as 1200 or 1400 calories and notice that their weight is still going up. They may also be combining this with vigorous exercise and still the scale goes up. This is a prime example of metabolic adaptation occurring to make sure your body doesn’t go into a state of starvation.
How to reverse metabolic adaptation
It’s best to be diagnosed by a physician or registered dietician for metabolic adaptation and rule out any other underlying health condition. Once you have confirmed metabolic adaptation is the issue, your physician or registered dietician will actually begin a slow process of reverse dieting. Reverse dieting involves slowing upping your calories to allow your body to adapt to eating higher levels of calories and working more efficiently. While many people are worried about reverse dieting and the fear of “getting fat,” you’ll actually notice weight loss and muscle gain after a period of time.
Reverse dieting can be a long process, though, especially if you have been eating at exceptionally low intakes. The great part of this process, though, is that you’ll quickly notice higher energy levels, better concentration and improved mood. Please make sure that you are guided through the reverse dieting process by someone with the proper experience. It may seem easy, but reverse dieting is about adding the perfect amount of calories and adding in the right kinds of foods. It must be done correctly and with guidance!
It's important to remember that no one should be living their life with the bare minimum of calories to survive. There is a way to support weight loss while still eating the foods you love and adding in those good nutrients. If you’re at a place where your calories are incredibly low, you aren't losing weight, you feel exhausted and cranky, please ask for help. It’s unfortunate how much misinformation you see online about weightloss and health. If you come across people who preach heavy restrictions, just run the other way. There’s an option for you that’s balanced, healthy and will leave you happy. You deserve to have both health and happiness!
Until next time… and remember health is for all!